VOD Review: The Fabulous Allan Carr

STUDIO: Automat Pictures | DIRECTOR: Jeffrey Schwarz
RELEASE DATE: June 5, 2018
SPECS: NR | 90 min. | Documentary

RATINGS (out of 5 dishes): Movie  | Audio | Video  | Overall 

A highly energetic and entertaining survey of the flamboyant life and times of the titular producer and showman, The Fabulous Allan Carr, the latest from documentarian Jeffrey Schwarz (I Am Divine, Tab Hunter Confidential), smashingly captures the glitz of the disco era as embodied by its subject.

Through archival newsreel footage, talk show clips and film footage, along with new interviews and retro-style limited animation, Carr’s career is traced, following him from life as Allan Solomon, an overweight Jewish kid from Chicago, whose desire to put together theatrical revivals (featuring some heavyweight names) and producing the syndicated Windy City-based Playboy’s Penthouse, up through Hollywood in the mid-1970s and beyond.

Producer Allan Carr with Grease star Olivia Newton-John.

In Los Angeles, Carr gets his start as a manger, handling the careers of Marlo Thomas, Ann-Margret, Peter Sellers, Marvin Hamlisch and others, then makes a mint marketing the schlocky 1976 Mexican soccer team cannibal thriller Survive! to unexpected box-office success. His association with Brit producer Robert Stigwood leads to the big screen smash Grease, but Carr then whiffs with such efforts as Grease 2, Where the Boys Are ’84  and the Village People musical Can’t Stop the Music, which offers one of the weirdest ensemble casts in cinematic history (Steve Guttenberg! Valerie Perrine! Bruce Jenner! And directed by novice Nancy Walker who left the theater before its world premiere!). Eventually, Carr heads back to the theater for the 1983 Broadway hit version of French film La Cage Aux Folles, a project penned by Harvey Fierstein and pitched to Frank Sinatra and Danny Kaye which ended up starring Gene Barry and George Hearn and winning six Tony Awards including Best Musical.

Hilariously painful is a detailed account of the bespectacled, caftan-wearing Carr’s memorably disastrous production of the 1989 Academy Awards telecast which included the extended Rob Lowe/Snow White/”Proud Mary” opening sequence which is now legendary in a jaw-droppingly awful way.

On the serious side, filmmaker Schwarz doesn’t hold back on the more serious side of Carr or the era he proudly embodied. The producer’s constant battle with his weight is chronicled as Carr undergoes an early and potentially dangerous gastric bypass surgery. The Fabulous Allan Carr also sharply puts its subject into appropriate historical perspective as the producer’s hedonistic ways fade as the AIDS crisis becomes more prominent in the early-mid 1980s, dampening his party animal style.

A man whose excesses often new no bounds, Carr comes off as a bombastic self-promoter in love with Old Hollywood—as well as himself—along with the surroundings of sex, drugs, muscular young men and kitschy digs that included a swimming pool with pink water.

A scene from the Carr-produced 1980 musical Can’t Stop the Music.

Some of the most revealing parts of the film come from Carr’s own guest spots on Mike Douglas and Merv Griffin’s talk shows. And while new interviews with the likes of Ann-Margret, Olivia Newton-John, John Travolta and Michelle Pfeiffer are conspicuously absent, there is a plenty of good gab from the likes of Grease director Randal Kleiser, Grease 2 actors Lorna Luft and Maxwell Caulfied, film historian Robert Osbourne and raconteuse Alana Stewart.

Particularly sharp is commentary from comedian Frank DeCaro, writer Bruce Vilanch and film critic Alonso Duralde, who fill in the gaps with insight and zingy anecdotes.

The Fabulous Allan Carr paints an appropriately splashy and surprisingly affecting portrait of a self-made Hollywood character whose name is synonymous with a specific moment in time and a specific lifestyle. Those familiar with Carr’s work will get a kick out of it and certainly learn something, whether they believe Grease is the word or not.


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About Irv

Irv Slifkin has been reviewing movies since before he got kicked off of his high school radio station for panning The Towering Inferno in 1974. He has written the books VideoHound’s Groovy Movies: Far-Out Films of the Psychedelic Era and Filmadelphia: A Celebration of a City’s Movies, and has contributed film reportage and reviews to such outlets as Entertainment Weekly, The Hollywood Reporter, Video Business magazine and National Public Radio.